Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Council hears complaint about possible undocumented workers

Contractor decries possible “illegals” taking jobs from citizens

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Town Council had some sympathy with concerns raised by a citizen about possible “illegal workers” working on the Crested Butte Paradise Park affordable housing project, but were stymied about what, if anything, they could do about the situation.

Local drywall contractor Rob Burnett, a long-time critic of contractors who hire employees who are not U.S. citizens told the council at the October 7 meeting that he was “bummed about the affordable housing project going up near Rainbow Park.”

He accused the project’s developer, Bywater Development, LLC, of “hiring illegals to work on its projects.”

Burnett said he thought the town prohibited such activity with town projects.

Bywater’s Joel Wissian said Burnett’s charge was totally unfounded. “Everyone we use on the job is legal and every business has a town  business license,” Wissian said Tuesday.

Town manager Dara MacDonald did clarify that any work done for the town by a contractor has to meet state and federal standards when it comes to documenting workers. The town’s standard construction agreement contains a lengthy provision making it clear that “Work By Illegal Aliens is Prohibited.” She said for this particular project, Bywater controls the property and thus is not working for the town of Crested Butte. “He owns the project and he hires his workers,” she said.

Town attorney John Sullivan confirmed that the contract between the town and Bywater did not contain the provision similar to what is in the standard contractor agreement.

“Working class people need good wages to live here,” Burnett told the council. “I could hire illegal workers for $10 an hour but I pay American workers $30 an hour. That’s not sustainable. We have massive lawlessness in this town that takes money from the working class people in this valley.”

Burnett said his crew consists of people who are 80 percent minorities but he uses the e-verify system to make sure they are all legal workers. He said not everyone does that and it hurts the local blue-collar workers. “The money is not getting to the working class,” he said. “I feel alone on this but it’s basic economics. When the working class loses money they need to leave the valley.”

He also suggested that this type of public housing project should be done in lean economic times instead of during a boom when workers are all busy.

“It is very upsetting,” he said. “This ultra-rich valley with ultra-caring people should be doing better.”

The council discussed his concerns later in the meeting but were baffled at what action they could take.

“We want our workers to be paid a living wage,” commented councilwoman Mallika Magner. “I understand his point.”

Councilman Paul Merck agreed but suggested there were more effective ways, under the circumstances, for Burnett to remedy the situation rather than going to the Town Council. He said the state might be a more appropriate place to deal with it.

Sullivan agreed that it might be more appropriate for state law enforcement to look into the situation. The council appeared to feel that was probably the best avenue to take.

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